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Swamp

Confessions of an Academic Pseudo-Giraffe
27.4.06  
Those monsters up north
Kirsi, kiitos tästä helmestä. While staying in the US a couple of years ago, I paid attention to a constant flow of little "freak stories" from Finland that made their way to the New York Times. It seems a strange phenomenon, but I suppose papers all over the world like pieces like these, especially when they deal with small far-away countries. The other constant seems to be that the stories generally laugh at the topic from a solid but superficial outside position and miss the abundant (self-)ironies that immerse the topic when seen from the inside. Those who keep repeating the point about the Finn's low self-esteem should have paid attention to the wide smiles on the faces of the people who voted Lordi. These are the people who had the cultural literacy and sense of metaphor to turn the "Euroviisut" openly into the freak show it has long been.

from the NY times...

Finland Squirms as Its Latest Export Steps Into Spotlight

HELSINKI, Finland — They have eight-foot retractable latex Satan wings, sing
hits like "Chainsaw Buffet" and blow up slabs of smoking meat on stage. So
members of the band Lordi expected a reaction when they beat a crooner of
love ballads to represent Finland at the Eurovision song contest in Athens,
the competition that was the springboard for Abba and Celine Dion.

But the heavy-metal monster band did not imagine a national identity crisis.

First, Finnish religious leaders warned that the Freddy Krueger look-alikes
could inspire Satanic worship. Then critics called for President Tarja
Halonen to use her constitutional powers to veto the band and nominate a
traditional Finnish folk singer instead. Rumors even circulated that Lordi
members were agents sent by President Vladimir V. Putin to destabilize
Finland before a Russian coup — an explanation for their refusal to take off
their freakish masks in public.

The fury also spread in Greece, winner of last year's Eurovision and
therefore the host of this year's contest, where an anti-Lordi movement
called Hellenes urged the Finnish government "to say 'no' to this evil
group." One young Finn calling himself Suomi (Finland in Finnish) wrote to a
newspaper Web log saying, "If Lordi wins Eurovision, I am leaving the
country."

The lead singer, Lordi — a former film student who goes by his real name,
Tomi Putaansuu, when not wielding a blood-spurting electric chain saw — is
philosophical about the uproar.

The affair, Mr. Putaansuu says, has exposed the insecurity of a young
country whose peculiar language is spoken by only six million people
worldwide and whose sense of identity has been dented by being part of the
Swedish kingdom and the Russian empire until gaining independence in 1917.
Most Finns, he adds, would rather be known for Santa Claus than heavily
made-up monster mutants.

"In Finland, we have no Eiffel Tower, few real famous artists, it is
freezing cold and we suffer from low self-esteem," said Mr. Putaansuu, who,
as Lordi, has horns protruding from his forehead and sports long black
fingernails.

As he stuck out his tongue menacingly, his red demon eyes glaring, Lordi was
surrounded by Kita, an alien-man-beast predator who plays flame-spitting
drums inside a cage; Awa, a blood-splattered ghost who howls backup vocals;
Ox, a zombie bull who plays bass; and Amen, a mummy in a rubber loincloth
who plays guitar.

Dragging on a cigarette, Mr. Putaansuu added, "Finns nearly choked on their
cereal when they realized we were the face Finland would be showing to the
world."

Often derided as a showcase of kitsch, Eurovision is one of the most watched
television programs in the world. It pits pop groups from all over Europe
and the Middle East against one another, with the winner decided by popular
vote by more than 600 million viewers.

It is not the first time the contest, which began in 1956, has spawned
discontent. Last year's Ukrainian entry song was rewritten after being
deemed too political by government officials in Kiev because it celebrated
the Orange Revolution. When Dana International, an Israeli transsexual, won
in 1998 with her hit song "Diva," rabbis accused her of flouting the values
of the Jewish state.

But not everyone in this Nordic country of five million views the monster
squad as un-Finnish. Some Finns say that Lordi is right at home and that the
band's use of flaming dragon-encrusted swords and exploding baby dolls
expresses the warrior spirit of the Vikings.

Alex Nieminen, a Finnish ad executive, says the band harks back to the
Hakkapeliittas, the legendary Finnish cavalry unit that fought as part of
the Swedish army in the 17th century. He argues that the slasher film
imitators embody Finnish self-assertion after decades of isolation.

"Lordi represents a rebellion by Finns who are saying, 'Hey we are not all
the Nokia-wielding people the government would like you to think we are,' "
Mr. Nieminen said.

On the eve of the vote, fans in ghoulish monster outfits held Lordi parties
from Helsinki to Lapland and sent text messages urging everyone from
grandmothers to young metal heads to "Change the face of Finland!" Lordi won
the right to go to Athens with its Kiss-inspired anthem "Hard Rock
Hallelujah" and its lyrics, "Wings on my back/I got horns on my head/my
fangs are sharp/and my eyes are red."

The Finns' fascination for Lordi may reflect their eternal hope after coming
in last at Eurovision eight times. Some Finns rank that humiliation with
their nation's appeasement of the Soviet Union or losing in hockey to
Sweden.

Finns blame their losing streak on the fact that contestants have typically
sung in their mother tongue, a famously difficult Uralic language where
words with three umlauts are not uncommon.

" 'Finland, zero points' has become a source of deep embarrassment in the
nation's psyche," Ilkka Mattila, the country's leading music critic, said.
"So Lordi's success must be understood as a vote by people who feel we have
nothing to lose."

Finns are so uncomfortable with themselves, says Alexander Stubb, a Finnish
member of the European Parliament, that when they meet someone for the first
time, they stare at their own feet. Then, after 10 years of friendship, they
stare at the other person's feet. But there is little risk that anyone,
Finnish or otherwise, will stare at Lordi's furry platform demon boots, he
adds, noting that Lordi could embarrass Finland when it takes over the
European Union presidency in July.

Timo Soini, leader of "Ordinary Finns," a traditionalist political party
from rural Finland, says Lordi has attracted criticism because Finns are so
thin-skinned about how others perceive them. "Finns are suspicious when they
see someone new come to play in their sandbox," Mr. Soini said. "And that is
particularly the case when that someone looks like a monster."

While other boys in Lapland were playing hockey, Mr. Putaansuu played with
his Barbie doll and began experimenting with makeup. In film school he
became obsessed with horror films and the heavy metal bands Kiss and Twisted
Sister. Like his fellow metal heads, Mr. Putaansuu hoped that transgression
would sell big. But he says it took 10 years to get a record deal because
Finnish labels were so turned off by the band's appearance.

Under their masks, the band members are quintessential Finns. Awa, the
ghost, is a soft-spoken blond who wears glasses and studied classical music.
Even Mr. Putaansuu, who wears a black leather jacket when not sporting
serpent lapels, says his music is closer to gospel than Satan. After all,
one of the band's hit songs is "The Devil Is a Loser."

"Even if we lose the contest, we have already won," Mr. Putaansuu said.
"Many Finns would rather have sent someone boring and acceptable than to be
represented by freaks like us."

Old Ones
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